Reader question: Could the French presidential election be postponed because of Ukraine war?

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has certainly distracted attention away from the French presidential race, but could the elections be postponed because of it?

Reader question: Could the French presidential election be postponed because of Ukraine war?
Could polling day be postponed in France? Photo: Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP

Question: The news from Ukraine seems more and more worrying, is this really the time for France to be holding an election?

The French government says that it won’t come to this. Emmanuel Macron in his letter to the French people said it was important to continue with the country’s democracy, while acknowledging that his campaigning time will be limited by the crisis. Government spokesman Gabriel Attal has also assured reporters that Macron will be taking part in the traditional televised candidates’ debates.

But would it be legally possible to move the election, as dates for local elections were moved during the pandemic?

The French constitution is clear on this point, Article 6 stipulates that the Head of State must be “elected for five years by direct universal suffrage”.

Meanwhile Article 7 stipulates that the election must take place “at least twenty days and at most thirty-five days before the expiry of the powers of the incumbent president”.

This is to allow time for an orderly handover of power.

Macron’s current term expires on May 13th, so theoretically voting could be pushed back.

However, French presidential elections take place over two rounds of voting which must be two weeks apart, with polling day taking place by tradition on a Sunday, as it is judged to be the day when the French are most at liberty to go and vote.

The current polling dates are April 10th and 24th. These could be moved back to April 17th and May 1st, but it’s hard to see what would be the advantage of moving polling dates by just one week.

Olivier Dord, professor of public law at the University of Paris-Nanterre, told France Info that “in the situation of the war in Ukraine, which is likely to last, it is difficult to see what use such a postponement would be”.

Moving polling day any later than April 17th/May 1st would require a change in the constitution, or a suspension of the constitution, which only happens in extremely dramatic moments in France’s history.

When it comes to local elections there is a lot more flexibility, since these are fixed by local decrees and laws rather than set down in the constitution. During the pandemic, the second round of municipal elections in 2020 were postponed from March – when the country was in lockdown – to the summer, and 2021 regional elections were also postponed.

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Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France’s disabilities minister

France's disabilities minister will not face a new inquiry "as things stand" over a rape allegation that surfaced just after his nomination by President Emmanuel Macron last week, prosecutors have said, citing the anonymity of the alleged victim.

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France's disabilities minister

Damien Abad has faced growing pressure to resign after the news website Mediapart reported the assault claims by two women dating from over a decade ago, which he has denied.

One of the women, identified only by her first name, Margaux, filed a rape complaint in 2017 that was later dismissed by prosecutors.

The other woman, known only as Chloe, told Mediapart that in 2010 she had blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne from Abad at a bar in Paris, and woke up in her underwear in pain with him in a hotel room. She believes she may have been drugged.

She did not file an official complaint, but the Paris prosecutors’ office said it was looking into the case after being informed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics, a group formed by members of France’s MeToo movement.

“As things stand, the Paris prosecutors’ office is not following up on the letter” from the observatory, it said, citing “the inability to identify the victim of the alleged acts and therefore the impossibility of proceeding to a hearing.”

In cases of sexual assault against adults, Paris prosecutors can open an inquiry only if an official complaint is made, meaning the victim must give their identity.

Abad has rejected the calls to resign in order to ensure the new government’s “exemplarity,” saying that he is innocent and that his own condition of arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his joints, means sexual relations can occur only with the help of a partner.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle last Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right-wing opposition.

The new prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, said she was unaware of the allegations before Abad’s nomination, but insisted that “If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences.”

The claims could loom large over parliamentary elections next month, when Macron is hoping to secure a solid majority for his reformist agenda. Abad will be standing for re-election in the Ain department north of Lyon.